This story has been updated.
Election Day 2020 dawned with San Antonio at the ready for what some feared might become a raucous day. City officials installed temporary fencing around the Alamo, and some downtown businesses covered their windows with plywood in anticipation of potential unrest.
By the close of voting at 7 p.m., reports indicated a smooth process at most polling locations with few lines and short waits. Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said 82,999 votes were cast on Election Day, fewer than anticipated. Thirteen polling sites had fewer than 100 people vote there, she said.
Still, she estimated that turnout was just over 64 percent, a record that eclipsed 2016, when 57.7 percent of registered voters participated in the presidential election.
With more than 676,000 votes cast during Bexar County’s early voting period, surpassing the 598,691 total number of votes in the 2016 election, a Tuesday morning survey of several polling sites indicated relatively short lines at many polling sites.
By 7 a.m., 40 people had lined up outside the McCreless Library, with security officer Robert Hardcastle keeping an eye on the line and asking people to maintain proper social distancing.
“Hopefully, it’ll be a good day,” Hardcastle said.
Gabriel Mazuca, a 38-year-old restaurant worker, said he couldn’t get off work to participate in early voting. “I had to wait to the last to last day, [but] I wasn’t going to miss it. I was counting and waiting four years for this day so I could get my vote in and get Trump out of there.”
Retired at age 77, Butch Taylor said his wife voted early but he hadn’t managed to get to the polls until now. He said he decided on his presidential choice when Democrat Joe Biden picked Kamala Harris as his running mate. “I don’t like her,” Taylor said.
Pease Middle School was even busier. Sterling Gardner, 24, showed up just before 7 a.m. with his mother and left just over an hour later. A teacher at Harlan High School, Gardner was unable to find time to vote early but took advantage of a Tuesday student holiday to head to the polls.
Gina Ortiz Jones, the Democratic candidate for the 23rd Congressional District, stopped by Pease Middle School near the Heritage neighborhood where she grew up in Far West San Antonio to talk with voters and reporters.
With health care for all a central issue of her platform, Ortiz Jones said, “Our communities are still wanting … quality affordable healthcare, good-paying jobs, and good leaders.” Living through the pandemic and resultant economic crisis means that “quality affordable health care is as important as any other time,” she said.
Fatema Ritu, a 25-year-old immigrant from Bangladesh and new citizen as of Sept. 14, said health care was a clear reason for her to vote for Democrats. Her brother Mohammad Khan moved from New York back to Texas to help turn the political tide. “We need to see blue state Texas,” he said, laughing.
Candlewood Elementary teacher Shawntanna Proctor lost her chance to vote in 2016 because she arrived to her polling location too late after a full day of work. Proctor said this year she was taking no chances and made sure she was in line at Pease Middle School by 7:20 a.m. “I’m going to make sure that I get counted this time.”
At 7:30 a.m., fewer than a dozen people were lined up at the Bexar County Elections Department downtown. After a recent surgery, Rachel Downen had requested a mail-in ballot Oct. 13 in hopes of avoiding the need to stand in line to vote, but her ballot arrived Friday, too late to mail with assurance that it would arrive in time be counted.
Dropped off by her husband, the 48-year-old Downen unfolded her walker and made her way to the County’s only mail-in ballot drop-off location.
Father and son first-time voters Malcolm and Noah Cook, ages 47 and 20, said they came out early to avoid any crowds, and were pleased with how smoothly the voting process went. As a blind person, Noah said most polling sites accommodate visually impaired voters, and poll workers at Lions Field gave him the option of having his father act as a voting surrogate or voting via an audio device with a Braille controller.
Noah chose the latter, and said he had a good experience casting his first-ever votes. “I think it’s really important to actually sit down at the ballot and actually start voting,” he said. “I don’t think people realize how great the opportunity [is] that we get to do that. I didn’t feel the gratitude until I sat down and started picking my voting choices.”
Winding lanes of caution tape and traffic cones had been installed outside the Alamo Heights City Hall, but were empty at 8:30 a.m., with just a few voters inside.
Roberta Matos emerged after a brief delay due to a malfunctioning voting machine, but made sure her ballot was counted after the problem was solved. Matos had emigrated from Brazil and became a citizen five years ago, and at age 34, this was her first time voting in the U.S. “I actually have a knot in my stomach,” she said. “It’s very exciting.”
A campaign volunteer mentioned that her elections app showed a 30- to 40-minute wait at the Tobin Library, but by 9 a.m. there was no waiting, with a trickle of voters making their way through a thicket of campaign signs set in the grass near the driveway.
Thirty-nine year-old science teacher Micah Rivera said he’d been unable to get a day off to vote early, but had made up his mind who to vote for “a long, long time ago.” He said he’d expected long lines, but saw “there’s nobody here right now.”
Cars populated the parking lot at the Claude Black Community Center, possibly because some community members had mistakenly appeared in hopes of getting food commodities. Roland Martinez, public relations manager for the Department of Human Services, said “Claude Black Community Center is an election polling location today and is not a site for food distribution.”
Ta’renee Young, age 21, was dropped off by her parents Marvin and Cynthia Young to vote for the first time. She emerged from the polling place beaming behind her pink nylon mask.
“It was amazing! It was a lot simpler than I thought,” she said. “I just had to sit down and really think about what I expect from each candidate.”
Some election volunteers anticipated rushes around midday and toward the end of voting, between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., when polls closed. At the end of the voting day, the Claude Black center had gone quiet, with no one waiting.
At McCreless nearing 7 p.m., Hardcastle reported no incidents and few voters during the day, though nearly 40 people had lined up just before the deadline, matching the number there at 7 a.m.
Jaime Mejia, a 26-year-old who said he didn’t vote earlier because he hadn’t yet made up his mind on the candidates, was near the end of the line. Researching candidates on his cellphone, Mejia said he would make up his mind when he got into the voting booth, based chiefly on how either presidential candidate would handle the pandemic.
Behind him in line was Marlene Lyon, 41, who also had not yet made up her mind and was busy researching on her phone, having typed “Trump vs. Biden” into her Google search engine.
“I should have my decision by the time I get up there,” Lyon said.
Sarah Valdez, 38, made it into the line just before 7 p.m., but 28-year-old J. J. Martinez missed the cutoff by one minute and wasn’t permitted to cast a ballot. He was unable to vote earlier, got stuck in traffic, and was standing near the line when the cutoff came.
“Rules are rules, I guess,” Martinez said. “I don’t think we’d have to shut down an entire election over one vote.”
He said he anticipated “a historical turnout here in Texas” despite the loss of his vote. “We’ll see how this turns out. I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Sheriff Javier Salazar told reporters during a media appearance Monday that he had asked all personnel to be ready to respond in uniform on Election Day in case of potential unrest or instances of voter intimidation.
A candidate for reelection himself, Salazar appealed to his constituents to remain calm whatever the results of the day. He said his agency would maintain a “heightened level of security” through Election Day and onward, if necessary. He urged people to refrain from letting public demonstrations end in violence or destruction of property.
“Obviously, we’re hoping that people won’t act out or protest,” he said. “Going into an election, there’s always going to be one side that’s jubilant and happy about the results. And the other side that’s not. … Celebrate or don’t, but don’t let it drive you out into the streets to infringe upon other people’s rights or even worse, don’t go out and violate people’s rights or damage property. Bexar County is way too classy for that sort of thing.”
Nearing the end of the voting day, Wolff thanked local residents for respecting one another during the final day of the election, saying there had not been any reports of “ugly incidents at the polls.”
Jackie Wang, Jennifer Norris, and Shari Biediger contributed to this report.